For Escape Artists’ annual Artemis Rising event, I had the pleasure of guest-hosting The Lady With the Light by Mel Kassel at Pseudopod.
Pseudopod is a short-fiction horror podcast, and they’ve been going strong for over a decade. If you’re new to horror, podcasting, short fiction, or any combination of those things — check out this list of thirteen stories that show the strength and diversity of their offerings.
I just found out I’m sharing an issue of Grimdark Magazine with Brent Weeks.
This is a bit of a special moment for me.
When I was studying sword in rural China, I got sick. Coughing-blood sick. The only way to get medicine was through an IV, and I was set to go home in a few weeks, so I tried to tough it out.
Sifu took me aside one night and said if I didn’t go to the hospital and get the medicine, I’d die. At the time, it felt like a choice between dying now, or dying in ten years from something on a dirty needle.
I stayed up most of the night trying to decide, and struggling to breathe.
I did wind up going to the hospital, and was on an IV for three days. The Night Angel trilogy kept me company while I recovered, and took my mind off whatever consequences I’d have to face for my decision*.
When I got back to the US, my little brother mailed me a copy of his new favorite book, The Way of Shadows.
Everything turned out fine.
*(and my ignorant notions about country hospitals)
GdM Issue #11 is up for pre-order, dropping on April 1.
– Cry Wolf by Deborah A. Wolf
– Devouring the Dead by Laura Davy
– The First Kill by C.T. Phipps
– For Honour, For Waste by Setsu Uzume (reprint)
– The Odd Hopefulness of Grimdark by Matthew Cropley
– An Interview with Anna Smith-Spark
– Review: Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister
– An Interview with Brent Weeks
– Review: Sam McPheeters’ Exploded View
Or, sign up for your subscription now over on their Patreon page. You’ll get the issue delivered a few days earlier through here, too: https://goo.gl/jJUm2r
Add this issue on your Goodreads feed here: https://goo.gl/F0YjfM
I started doing short-fiction narrations in 2015. Here are some things I’ve noticed since I started.
Hardware, software, recording setup
- Audacity is still my favorite for recording and editing voice. Other programs worth investigating include Amadeus Pro, Logic Express, Garageband, Parametric EQ, Adobe Audition, and RX 5 Audio Editor.
- I made a sound recording box by lining a cardboard box with about two inches of foam (it’s a big box), and putting my Blue Yeti mic inside it.
- The gain on the Blue Yeti mic (there’s a dial) is only at about 75%, and I make any other adjustments to the recording levels in audacity. This was meant to cut down on hiss, while still getting a loud and clear recording of my voice.
- I got an even cleaner sound when I moved the recording box into a large coat closet, with the coats still in there for sound insulation. Glamorous, huh?
- The sound box or sound insulation you create probably matters more than the microphone if you’re on a budget.
- For narration, recording in Mono halves the size of the file. Stereo isn’t necessary.
- It’s way easier to listen to all the versions and pick one take during editing, than to try to go back and insert something after the fact (see Feels for more).
- Make sure you test your recording before you dive in. If there’s a technical issue midway through, you have to do the whole thing over again.
- If you have a tablet or a smartphone, try reading off that. Paper rustles, mouses click. That stuff is a pain in the neck to edit out.
- Meet your deadlines. You don’t have to be the best, but if you can deliver satisfactory product on time, that means a lot.
Your voice, your body, your digestive system
- Slow down.
- I’ve gotten the best response from listeners when my voice was messed up, such as after being sick.
- Warming up your voice gives you a richer and more consistent sound. If you decide to blow your voice out to make it gravelly, screaming is one option. My favorite band for warming up my voice is System of a Down (because they go really high and really low, depending on the harmony line you sing) and In This Moment.
- If you have to stop recording — because you flubbed, or a car crashed outside, or the neighbor’s dog is barking — repeat the line at least twice. Sometimes the frustration of having had to pause is still in your voice. Your director ear will notice, even if your actor ear doesn’t.
- Different accents happen in different places in your mouth. This can sometimes help you keep track of different characters during one recording session.
- Similarly, different voices happen in different places in your throat. Pay attention to the physical sensation of a low voice, or the amount of air you’re using for a breathy voice. This is all muscle control, just like a pianist practicing finger position.
- There’s a tendency for emotional stories or accented stories to speak in a monotone, or to rush over certain words to make it sound like fluency. I am guilty of this. Don’t do this, it sounds terrible.
- Slow down.
- There are resources for accent study, such as the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA).
- When I’ve had trouble pronouncing certain names of people (or rivers, or pastry), YouTube is a great resource. There are lots of interviews that begin with, “I’m here with Superstar Sportysport,” which will help you pronounce “Superstar.” This is also helpful when you’re dealing with unfamiliar spellings of familiar names.
- Keep an ear out for foods that make your stomach growl. It’ll rumble when you’re hungry, and it’ll rumble when you’re digesting. The mic can pick that up.
- For wet mouth, I’ve had some success with green apple slices. Several things can contribute to that ungodly clicking noise. Wet mouth is one, allergies can be another (the clicking can be up in your sinuses as well), and I’ve also heard that some of the clicks are caused by not opening your mouth wide enough when you speak. Avoid water, sugar, milk products, and coffee before and during a recording session.
- Seriously. Slow down. For narration, clear enunciation will be more important than acting every time.
Acting, vocal theater, seven roles in 30 minutes
- If you’re cutting your own recording, you’re both the director and all of the actors. Give your future self something to work with, and remember your mistakes so you can figure out how to fix them. It’s a learning process, and we get better with practice.
- Read through the story before you record it. You’re helping build toward the twist and the resolution. You’re in a position to plant seeds as much as the text is.
- Old voices, young voices, gendered voices, and anything else that isn’t your natural voice risks becoming caricature. If you can hit the full emotional range in that voice without laughing or rolling your eyes (unless it’s in the script), you’ve got it.
- People can’t see your face or your body language when you’re recording. However, you can still make faces and gesticulate if that helps you infuse emotion into your voice. When you’re listening to someone’s voicemail message, you can tell whether or not they were smiling, right? Same thing.
- During certain key moments (other than when I forget how words work) I’ll record a sentence or a piece of dialogue multiple times. This lets me work up to the right emotional pitch, and it gives me a chance to emphasize different words in the sentence to see what fits with the narrative, the characters, and the final ending. For example…
- “We must forgive” could be read as, “WE must forgive,” or “we MUST forgive,” or “we must FORGIVE.” Each sentence is making a slightly different point.
- I think the most recordings I’ve made of a single sentence was 26 times, because I couldn’t get my voice to crack quite the way I wanted until take 19 or so. Let the recording run until you’re back in the moment. Stay in the story; you can fix the recording later.
- Speaking of staying in the story… I do want to kill my neighbor’s dog. Or at least tranquilize it. Unfortunately, both of these options are illegal (and will probably stress my neighbor out), so it’s been more handy to learn how to hold the emotional tension in my mind while waiting for the dog to stop barking, say the line again twice, and then continue with the story.
- For emotional depth, acting chops, and bringing dozens of characters to life with vocal variety and consistency, my hands-down favorite narrators are Jim Dale (Harry Potter), and Tony Robinson (Discworld).
Whether you want to record short fiction, audiobooks, or be an anime or video game actor, short fiction narration is a great way to get your feet wet and make a little cash in the process.
For more in-depth details and lessons on voice acting from an experienced professional, check out Voice Acting Mastery, hosted by Crispin Freeman.
Interested in narrating for audio books? Check out the Audiobook Creation Exchange, where authors, narrators, studio professionals, publishers, and agents look for and showcase voice talent.
Interested in narrating for Escape Artists? Pseudopod, PodCastle, Cast of Wonders, and EscapePod are all looking for narrators to fit their stories. If you are a native speaker of a language or dialect other than Standard American English, we would love to hear from you.
Gender-fluid is a gender identity which refers a dynamic mix of male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.
I’m gender-fluid. Here’s what that means to me.
My buddy and I went for a hike the other day, and back in their kitchen we got to talking about gender. They’re changing their pronouns in public for the first time, and they’re not sure if it will go over well, or smoothly, or if their self-description will accurately convey their being.
When I say I’m gender-fluid, here’s what I’m trying to convey:
As a kid, I was occasionally seen as a boy and told that the things I was interested in were boy things. I played a dude, as a dude, in a high school play. I sang with the boys for a few songs in choir. While I don’t feel un-female, I’ve come to understand that my stance shifts relative to the group I’m in and the role I take within that group. So now, when the vast majority of societal messages and cues tell me I do guy things, and act like a guy, I figure, “ok, I’m a guy. This is correct.”
Yet, the skin I wear fits, and I feel no need to change it.
I’ve met women that are tougher, harder, and butch-er that identify 100% as women. My experience doesn’t invalidate theirs, or vice versa. It’s a different mode.
For me, publicly identifying one way or the other helps set the tone. It contextualizes. It arranges for the response I want, and helps smooth interactions based on finding common ground.
That said, how you see me and what you call me has no bearing on what I am, which is why I’m not too hung up on pronouns… but I would feel like less if I were unable to shift. I would feel like less if I were asked to start, or stop, a particular gendered expression.
Identity is made up of a zillion categories and groupings, all of which have varying importance in someone’s life. Gender’s only one, like spirituality, or lineage. It’s not the first thing I’d mention when self-describing. Not because I’m ashamed, or not “out,” but because it’s not the most important lens through which I see myself.
It remains true, regardless.
If you feel like you’re this way, but didn’t have the word, now you do. If you feel like you’re alone in the way you are; you’re not.
While the language and the concepts might at first seem alien, or frustrating, or ridiculous, I appreciate that the conversations are becoming more commonplace. The more language we have, the more specific we can be — the better we’ll be able to understand, and be understood.
A few updates:
- All the writing tips on this blog prior to 2017 are crap. they will probably continue to be crap for the next five years.
- I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to use this blog for in future. I use Facebook most, Twitter least, and the rest not at all. The archival properties of social media are crap — I keep losing notes and content. Maybe I’ll repost it here for safekeeping.
- I’m taking a year off from conventions, so no travel in 2017.
- Voice acting creds and non-fiction creds will continue to be linked out.
- I just got a job at PodCastle as assistant editor, under Co-Editors Jen Albert and Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali. So that’s neat.
**THIS POST DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OR METHODOLOGY OF ANY ANTHOLOGY OR MAGAZINE I HAVE WORKED FOR. ALL VIEWS ARE MY OWN.
Hello new writers! Welcome to the game.
Here is some stuff I’ve learned about short fiction submission (and hopefully sales) in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I expect that some of this will be wrong, or not true in all cases. If you’ve had stuff published before, you probably know all this.
My credentials: I write mostly fantasy, and have slushed for the Upside Down anthology released by Apex Magazine. I currently slush (am a first-reader) for Escape Artists, specifically Podcastle and Cast of Wonders. I also have written a small number of spotlights (tiny interviews based on short stories) for Lightspeed.
Why am I writing this: I tweeted something re: short fiction submissions, and discovered some people saying the process is opaque. Hopefully these 9 items will shed some light on what happens to your story.
1. What is a slusher? Why should I listen to you?
When a short story gets sent to a publication (sometimes called a market), it enters a queue. The first round of readers, called slushers, read through the stories and decide which ones to pass up to the editor. This is sometimes called a “bump.” If the story doesn’t quite match the publication, or the prose isn’t quite there yet, it will be rejected at this stage. More on that below.
The word slush comes from back in the day when people would submit their stories by printing them out and tossing them through the mail slot. You can visualize how a thick pile of white manuscript paper resembles a chunky, half-melted snow drift.
Why listen to me? You don’t have to listen to me, there are lots of posts by much more successful writers, editors, and agents — but after about a year of being a slush reader, I’ve observed a few missteps that are pretty easy to fix. You know. If people know about them.
2. My story is done, and revised, and ready to go! What next?
Are you sure it’s done?
Have you gotten feedback on plot, sentence structure, pacing, plausibility?
Have you checked for common tropes that might be overused?
If no, go back and fix it.
If yes, read on.
Do not skip the revision step. Once you send a story to a market, you cannot re-submit it. Consider that bridge, for that story, burned.
But you can always submit different stories.
There are lots of places to submit your story, and new markets and anthologies pop up all the time. My go-to search engine is the Submission Grinder. There I can search not only by subgenre and length, but I can also search by the pay-level. Around 3cents a word is semi-pro, and around 6cents per word is considered a pro-rate.
Why join a guild? Friendship, news, and some resources. You’ll need to make at least one sale at 6cents/word in order to qualify for either of those.
3. How do I know if my story is what that market is looking for?
Well… you don’t. We don’t either. That’s why “don’t self reject” is common and good advice. However, here are the elements at play in a decision.
- You have to learn that market. Read the magazine. Listen to the podcasts. There are many styles within a genre. Some fantasy markets want old-school Conan adventures. Some fantasy markets are deeply committed to beautiful, understated language that cut to the emotional core.
- Subbing to a market without a broad sense of their taste is like going on a date with the editor and only talking about yourself. Hard to make a meaningful match that way.
- Is your story the best story in the pile, at the time? Sometimes we’ll get five stories in a pile that we absolutely adore, but we only have two slots available.
- I’ve had one friend get rejected because their story was similar to one that was recently purchased. They waited a year, the editors changed, they resubmitted, and sold the story.
- Taste is subjective. The stuff I like, the stuff my fellow slushers like, and the stuff my editors like might not match exactly. My editors have been kind enough to let me know if I’m going in a different direction from them, and I’ll adjust. If I don’t click with a story, but I recognize that the writing is really good, I leave it for someone else to judge.
4. I found a market I want to submit to. What next?
Check their web site for submission guidelines. That includes file type, formatting instructions, and cover letter content. I can’t speak for all magazines/markets, but most cover letters for short fiction should be brief.
Cover letters for short stories:
Here’s “my story,” at # words.
I’ve been published —, –, and —.
— (@KatanaPen) October 21, 2016
I see a lot of cover letters that are fluffed up into more details than this. To be honest, as a slusher (and kind of a jerk) I’m not interested. If your story is good, then people will like it, and they will like our magazine by extension. This is a business. There are no pity-sales.
If you don’t have previous publication creds, that’s totally fine. You can also list esteemed workshops and awards if you like, such as Clarion, Viable Paradise, or Taos Workshop. I don’t really care about that stuff, though. Mostly I will be envious you got to enjoy those experiences, and I haven’t yet.
I care about your story.
5. What about inclusion? Don’t you want to know if I’m non-binary?
This is the one exception to the above tweet. I do look for things that indicate the author has come from an underrepresented demographic, and I also look for notes on their occupation or other lived experience (i.e., refugee, Indigenous Cultural Advocacy, etc).
This does not include your feelings or intentions.
The reason I glance at this information depends largely on the topic and themes of the story. These qualities lend veracity to stories about those particular topics, but quality comes first, always.
I have also used this information to make sure I’m not misinterpreting unfamiliar language as “improper” language. Everyone slushes differently, and I’m still learning how to do this properly.
6. What if I get rejected?
There are a few kinds of rejections.
Form rejection – general, no details about your story. Either a poor fit, or the writing wasn’t quite ready.
Personal rejection – these are actually really great! The top 10% of rejections. They’ll tell you something specific about why your story wasn’t working for the editor. The trick is to go from being in the top 10% (personal rejections) to the top 1% (publication).
Rewrite request – “if you’re willing to make these changes, then we can send you a contract. LMK if that’s ok.” When I’ve been asked for rewrites in the past, I have done them — with the intention to revisit the cut material in other stories (if what was cut out was really important to me). It’s totally ok if you don’t want to make changes. No one will blacklist you for sticking to your guns.
Silence. Check the magazine’s website. Sometimes they’ll indicate how long you should wait to query. Querying is totally fine IF you do it during the time-span suggested (i.e., after waiting 3 months).
Regardless of what kind of rejection you get, it’s totally fine. It happens to most of us, all the time. Keep writing new stories, keep revising, and keep sending them out. It’s totally ok to “trunk” (put a way) a story if you’re not sure if it will sell. You should start the next one as soon as you can, though. If you have writer-buddies, this is how we keep our spirits up. If you don’t have writer buddies, check out some forums or Twitter or G+ and see if other people are looking. That’s a whole other post by itself.
7. What if I get accepted?
There will be a contract and a celebration, most likely. Possibly also dollars. Once the party’s over, start writing the next story.
8. You’re so mean! Why do you say you don’t care?
It’s not personal, it’s business.
That said, in light of privilege and intersectionality, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are millions of stories not getting told, that really need to be. There are voices that aren’t getting their share of the spotlight, that really should be. All of our experiences are unique, as are our voices. You might have some insight I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear. I want you to keep writing, reading, learning, growing, improving… so that when it’s your turn, you’re bulletproof.
I don’t want you to miss out because your sentences are clunky. I don’t want you to miss out because you’ve been sending your military SF to urban fantasy markets. I want you to have every opportunity available, and I want you to not waste it by making small, fixable mistakes.
9. What if I have more questions?
Slushers are largely invisible because of the odd person who will respond to a rejection with an argument, or in some cases, a baseball bat. Never EVER argue. Ever. Don’t even send thank-you notes. By allowing slushers and editors a bit of professional distance, we have the spoons to do our jobs correctly, voting on each story on its own merits.
This is a business. We are more likely to do business with other people who treat it like a business.
If you really want to get back at us, or thank us, keep writing. Write something that knocks our socks off. Keep trying. You’ll get there.
In the end, all that matters is the story.
The writers that are loudest about process advice tend to also be the newest (and not successful, yet). Don’t worry too much about finding the right path into the industry. Write and read, write and read.
When trying to figure out who to listen to, check their publication credits. How many books do they have out? Are they selling well? What awards to they have? Are they regularly invited to speak at conventions? Have they been interviewed or published in trade magazines like Locus?
Spoiler alert: I have done none of these things. So if you have the opportunity, become a slusher yourself. You’ll see what it’s like out there.